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Looking For Looters: Police Patrols Make Arrests In South Lake Tahoe Evacuation Zone

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE (CBS13) — Police patrols are cracking down on looters in South Lake Tahoe and have made several arrests since evacuations were ordered in the area.

On Friday, the streets of South Lake Tahoe were lined with law enforcement - the only people that are typically allowed to be around during an evacuation order. The emptiness makes it easier to spot those lingering or looting, crimes of opportunity targeting Tahoe.

"We've found garage doors rolled up. We've found doors unlocked," said Officer Traci Trapani, with the South Lake Tahoe Police Department. "They have easy access to a lot of this."

Many homeowners scrambled to flee, and may have left looters with easy access in evacuated neighborhoods - but from afar, most everyone hopes police can protect their homes.

"They've worked their entire life to build and make a home out of and survive," said Trapani.

Trapani said police patrols all day and night, and have already nabbed a handful of looters. Most of them, she says, are local to the area and never left despite the evacuation orders and may now be taking advantage of the emptiness.

Other agencies from across the state are helping the South Lake Tahoe Police Department, including the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office. They've made many of the arrests, so far.

"Some people have been breaking into houses," said Lt. Steven Johnson with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office. "Others have been stealing property that's laying around the houses."

Johnson said things like stolen bikes were quickly recovered, thanks to the help of home surveillance systems. Suspect searches have turned up weapons and tools prime for stealing.

Officers like Johnson are just happy to help keep the streets safe, and the Tahoe community is appreciative.

"It's just our way of giving back," Lt. Johnson said. "Everybody is saying thank you in various ways - it's definitely appreciated by everyone in law enforcement."

But not every alarm in town is triggered by a person. More than a dozen of them, police say, have come from bears.

"You'll see garbage cans tipped over," said Trapani. "The bears are just trying to survive through the fires also."

While those bears won't be found behind bars, the people who break into homes likely will. South Lake Tahoe PD said there have been seven arrests so far this week, and four of them have been specifically for looting.

Looting is considered a misdemeanor, but can be upgraded to a felony depending on what's taken. Those who were arrested are taken and booked into the jail in Placerville, due to the ongoing evacuation order.

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